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Toss out that old leadership library by Chris Kotur (WCLP '94), Leader in Residence

19 March 2012 By Chris Kotur

Chris Kotur
Chris Kotur

I've tossed out most of my collection of reading on leadership and shut down some subscriptions I've had for a long time.

Those titles gave me some confidence that we could learn how to be successful leaders if only we studied hard enough. But if that were true how come in 2012, so many world economies, governments, companies, organisations and individual leaders are struggling with all those messes all those leadership theorists said we could avoid?

Despite all the investment in leadership training and development some things just aren't working.

We have so many leadership theories and models, MBA courses, conferences, how to guides, software tools, gurus and experts ...and yet from the Eurozone to Australian boardrooms, businesses and communities leaders including are getting beaten by the big, complex, challenging problems of our time and many are struggling to find answers to problems they've never experienced before.   

Now more than ever leadership involves fixing things, hard things, while everyone is watching and judging every move.

I've been interested in leadership for a long time and as Leadership Victoria's (LV) first Leader in Residence this interest (along with some expertise) has grown. I now have unique opportunities to experience leadership up close and my work as a facilitator and strategy consultant across all sectors keeps showing me fresh insights from people who've worked out what it takes to make their leadership work in tough situations.

Every day I see extraordinary leadership in communities all around the country...people, many without training, designated roles or authority that comes with a job title are practicing leadership that is successfully guiding people through difficult changes.

They seem to make leadership a 'natural' skill, just their way of being in the world... and maybe we can reframe some of our ideas about successful leadership by learning from their examples.

If they were writing the new books on leadership (I'm sure they won't be interested) here are a couple of guesses and hopes for what I think they'd say:

  • Put more effort into engaging people than merely consulting them. Create more opportunities for people affected by change to create their own future, particularly if they've experienced natural disaster or other unwelcome change.
  • Set aside arbitrary distinctions between leadership and management. Differentiating between these terms can be contrived and irrelevant. The most successful leaders I work with right now unthinkingly combine leadership and management.
  • Learn more quickly from people who have worked out how to be resilient. Victoria's bushfire and flood-affected communities have extraordinary lessons to teach all of us about resilience. People have told me about periods of crisis when they've been working so hard for so long "we measure how stressful any change is in three weights - by the 5, 10 or 15 kilos we put on because we don't have time to stop and just live off junk food". There are now community leaders who have worked out how to handle long periods of stress, know how to look after themselves and when to say no, stop, reflect, listen. They lead by just getting on with it, leading others to greater resilience, and they don't go for weeks eating nothing but junk food.
  • Have a more positive outlook. Many leaders I've worked with lately seem to havepark ed their cynicism. Sceptical leaders don't seem to have right note for these times when it's so easy for all of us to feel gloomy.  Good leaders give others confidence and hope.
  • Beware of the slap on the back and the whispered "trust me mate". This may be coming from procrastinators, poor performers, amateurs or the dishonest whose values or behaviours carry risk. Values and high ethical standards always have been and always will be a part good leadership.

LV is a store house of these practical leadership gems and we'll bring you a great many more insights from the many leaders who are our Alumni or who we encounter in our day to day work with Victorians across the State.

I'd love to hear about your own insights into what leaders should know and be able to do in 2012 at ckotur@netspace.net.au.

Christine Kotur

LV's Leader In Residence